It's not often we can say a chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn't highly anticipated, but Inhumans certainly falls into that category, with its heavily promoted IMAX debut earning an underwhelming $2.6 million worldwide over the holiday weekend, and receiving entirely negative reviews. What was touted as an "innovative" and "unprecedented" theatrical event that would start the drumbeat for the eight-episode drama's broadcast premiere later this month has instead sounded a sour note with fans, many of whom have ridiculed the costumes and effects depicted in the teasers.
That's a world away from what was imagined in 2014, when Marvel Studios confirmed plans for a feature film starring the Inhumans, a race of superpowered beings introduced five decades earlier in the pages of Fantastic Four. Marvel Comics had spent the past several years raising their profile, moving the longtime supporting characters to major players, so it only made sense that they would be positioned as the film division's answer to Fox's X-Men. But the targeted 2018 release date was moved to 2019 before, last year, Inhumans was pulled from the MCU schedule entirely, only to reemerge as part of an ambitious deal between Marvel Television, ABC and IMAX.
However, doubts began to arise first with photos leaked from the drama's Honolulu set, and then with the first official image of the cast, dressed in costumes that some ridiculed as bad cosplay. The teaser trailer did little to assuage doubts, depicting Medusa's prehensile hair as a limp wig, and generally lacking the sense of spectacle of a Marvel production (on the plus side, it did deliver the lovable teleporting dog, Lockjaw). Then the worst fears about Inhumans were seemingly confirmed when Roel Reiné, the director of the IMAX episodes, acknowledged he was hired for his ability to work on a tight schedule and a low budget.
Where, and when, did Inhumans go wrong?
Firstly, always trust your instincts. The initial press for the movie brought nothing but negativity. Every trailer was panned, and the majority of what Marvel Television showed didn't inspire any confidence, which makes the show's debut unsurprising. We should have taken a hint when director of the first two episodes Roel Reine admitted that even he didn't like the first trailer and then went on to make it known the cutting of trailers for marketing occurs separately from him.
Another red flag was when Jeph Loeb, Marvel's head of television, had to clarify that these early glimpses were unfinished and unpolished. This highlighted a disconnect and helped pile on the harsh feedback. It also showed instability and left us wondering just how much thought and care went into the production. Was there proper communication? Was this show being taken seriously, or was it just a cash grab?
Outside of the clips, the stills of Black Bolt's Royal Family left us wondering what was going on. The cast's costumes came off like cosplay gone awry, from Medusa's wig to Black Bolt looking more at home in Bryan Singer's 2000 X-Men movie. The set pieces and overall visual aesthetic also failed when we first saw them, with Attilan feeling like a tame museum instead of an advanced and alien cosmopolitan.
All of these issues would then go on to be sadly be magnified when it was lights, camera and action on IMAX screens. It was disheartening, but again, we saw this coming from a mile away. We feared the worst and we got it, especially when the Inhumans used their powers. Outside of Lockjaw's teleportation, the visual effects unfolded like Saturday night B-movies on Syfy. Watching the Inhumans cut loose with their abilities felt like it belonged on NBC's Heroes, which ironically Loeb helped steer.
IMAX paid for the first two episodes, and the series was shot in Hawaii where Disney is accustomed getting tax incentives, so it has to be asked -- why does Inhumans feel so cheap? A bigger budget ought to have been allocated and if it was, that is not reflected in the final product. With that in mind, one has to wonder why something that was clearly made for television was then put on the IMAX stage. Any errors and shortcomings would be given a bigger spotlight and would be easier to spot. The show was setting itself up for ridicule. Bad press could easily be erased with a great product, but Inhumans never treads anywhere close to such water.
This leaves fingers to be pointed at the the powers-that-be such as Loeb, and showrunner Scott Buck. Loeb's strength has been seen on Marvel's animated projects as well as the Netflix pocket of the MCU, but with Buck, the skepticism is a bit heightened. His work on the final season of Dexter and as showrunner of Iron Fist was heavily criticized. Loeb even had to clarify that Buck not being on the show's second season was due to scheduling, and not due to a course correction for K'un-Lun's champion.
When we saw Danny Rand in The Defenders, you could actually feel the difference in the character and his overall arc, which justified those who wanted Buck away from the hero. Oddly enough, a similar vibe to Iron Fist in terms of story and style creeps in on Inhumans. Everything is haphazard and feels like darts randomly being thrown at a board, as opposed to the methodical approach usually seen in the MCU. One has to wonder if Buck, who said the show was going big, was the right guy for this job. Of course, Feige must hold some blame too because he's the chief architect, after all.
Inhumans could have been better. It should have been another MCU spectacle, especially because it wasn't new territory for the studio to chart. A special breed of outcasts in a hidden base on the Moon that could join the Guardians of the Galaxy or the Avengers? How is that so hard to do? Marvel Studios failed to gamble, for whatever reason, and it's sad especially after James Gunn laid the road map down on how to add pieces to the galactic puzzle. Reine's resume includes The Marine 2, a couple Death Race sequels and a 2017 SyFy film called Blood Drive -- which indicate that maybe he wasn't the man for the job, and that a more experienced director was needed for the premiere.
When all is said and done, Inhumans honestly had all the ingredients required for disaster from the start and these two episodes show just that. In recent years, the Inhumans have played such major roles in the comics, from Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's events like Realm of Kings to Infinity to Inhumans vs. X-Men. They were even seen as the new X-Men, which makes it all the more disappointing that this vision for the Royal Family ended up being so diluted. Fans will be hoping things improve from September 29 but we can't blame them for losing these bits of optimism as the days pass by because it's more than likely the critics will continue to be inhumane to the show.